Sunday July 14th, 2024 12:08AM
6:33PM ( 5 hours ago ) News Alert

Slave legend draws people for two-day remembrance in coastal Georgia

ST. SIMONS ISLAND - In May 1803, 10 Nigerians captured and sent to work on coastal Georgia plantations chose to drown themselves in Dunbar Creek rather than live as slaves. <br> <br> It is a legend known well by many islanders, keeping some from fishing or crabbing in the creek, fearing that the men continue to haunt the place. <br> <br> Over the weekend, about 75 people from as far as Nigeria visited the creek to designate the area as holy ground and to give the freed slaves peace. <br> <br> ``They were souls forced here to die without a proper burial. It&#39;s a step toward creating rest for us and our ancestors,&#39;&#39; said Adonijah O. Ogbonnaya, who lives in Illinois. <br> <br> The drowned slaves were from the southeast Nigerian tribe called Igbo or Ibo, which claims 40 million members worldwide. <br> <br> The event, organized by the St. Simons African-American Heritage Coalition, included lessons on Igbo history and customs Friday and a Saturday procession to the drowning site. <br> <br> Coastal Georgia schools have recently begun incorporating mention of the event in history classes. There is no historical marker at the site, which is next to a sewage treatment plant built in the 1940s. <br> <br> The source most often quoted by locals on the subject is a 1989 book by H.A. Sieber. It has accounts of the drowning as told by the survivors&#39; descendants. <br> <br> ``It&#39;s an oral tale that&#39;s been told down - not written. But it did happen,&#39;&#39; said Pat Morris, executive director of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. ``It&#39;s one of those things that we&#39;re always learning more about to tell the complete story. History isn&#39;t static.&#39;&#39; <br> <br> According to Sieber&#39;s book, as the men marched to their death, they sang in their native tongue: ``The water brought us; the water will take us away.&#39;&#39; Some claim that around midnight the stillness of the creek is disturbed by the clanging of chains and the men&#39;s cries. <br> <br> The men&#39;s spirits have remained restless for 199 years because they never received a proper burial, said Chukwuemeka Onyesoh, who traveled from Nigeria to help give them one. <br> <br> ``I came here to evoke their spirits to take them back to Igboland,&#39;&#39; he said. <br> <br> Others traveled to the island from Haiti, Belize, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Mississippi and Canada to remember the incident. Similar Igbo drownings occurred in Belize and Haiti. <br> <br> The drowned men were among about 75 Igbo, including women and children, forced to leave Nigeria on ships bound for coastal Georgia, home to profitable cotton plantations. Descendants of the survivors settled in the island&#39;s Harrington community. <br> <br> Dorothy Forbes, 81, and her husband have tried to preserve the historical site, leaving intact a rickety plank bridge that leads to the creek. They welcomed the tribesmen and historians this weekend and routinely welcome pilgrims to the site. <br> <br> This weekend, elder tribesmen danced, sang and prayed in her yard under towering oaks and moss-laced cypress. <br> <br> ``That&#39;s where they jumped ship,&#39;&#39; Forbes said while staring from her back yard. ``It&#39;s hallowed ground.&#39;&#39;
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